People of Kabul

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When the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, Turkish born French photographer Ahmet Sel settled in Kabul for three months to shoot portraits. At first he left his camera in his room because he didn’t want to be a mistaken for a photojournalist. “People would have been afraid,” said Sel recently, from his studio in Paris. Instead, he spent his days wandering the dusty streets and alleys of the war ravaged capital, getting to know the city and allowing locals to get know him. “To understand the light, the climate and the people, I walked a great deal among the ruins of the city, down little lanes in the working-cladd quarters. I observed the bazaar merchants, listened to the imam of the mosque speak of war; the war veterans evoke the memory of the resistance leader, Commandent Massoud. I become a fan of green tea, strongly recommended when it is hot, but also in winter when the snow falls on.

Sel was frustrated by the generalized images of Afghans being exported by news media. He wanted to get into the guts and marrow of individual struggles, the spritual architecture of post-war interior lives. How did people here perceive the future? How did they move beyond the emotional debris of deceased relatives, lost jobs, and bombed homes? Sel forged dozens of relationships that “Ran deeper than photography.” He inveted his new friends for a portrait session and together they would select an environment that was personally significant; a garden or room, or a familiar street. Sel provided minimal direction during the shoot, treating each portrait as a partnership. “Life can be normal,” he says, “and then in one moment can change into a nightmare. I believe some of the people I photographed killed others in the war, and many had friends or family killed, or were maimed. But we can permit optimism. These lives are larger than catastrophes.”

Inside a Different Kabul – The Walrus – January 2005